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exclusion zone, white area to be kept clear DO NOT PRINT BOX

exclusion zone, white area to be kept clear DO NOT PRINT BOX
© Chris Johnson / earthOCEAN
Executive Summary
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Over the last decade, there have been many independent assessments
This report was written by Clare Perry. of the levels of toxic chemicals present in cetacean (whale, dolphin and
porpoise) products in Japan. Peer reviewed scientific papers have revealed
EIA wishes to thank OceanCare (www.oceancare. dolphin meat with mercury levels several hundred times higher than
org) and the World Society for the Protection of
Animals (WSPA, for government recommended levels.
their support in the research and production of
this report. The contents of this report are the sole
responsibility of EIA. The Government of Japan has taken some small For more than thirty years, legislation has existed
steps to address this issue. In 2001 it became in Japan that recommends the removal of seafood
JUNE, 2008 illegal to falsely label dolphin meat as whale meat. products with lower mercury and methylmercury
Two years later some cetacean species were listed levels than are routinely found in toothed whale,
Environmental Investigation Agency
on a seafood health advisory that warned pregnant dolphin and porpoise products. Japan’s entire
62-63 Upper Street, London N1 ONY, UK
Tel: +44(0)20 7354 7960 Fax: +44(0)20 7354 7961 women to limit their consumption due to mercury coastal cetacean hunting industry, which is
email: levels. The advisory was updated in 2005, but it supported by the government, exists solely to
PO Box 53343, Washington DC 20009, USA remains wholly inadequate to protect consumers provide food which is recognised as unfit for
Tel: +1 202 483 6621 Fax: +1 202 986 8626 from high levels of pollution, and excludes several human consumption by that same government.
exclusion zone,
white area to be kept clear DO NOT PRINT BOX
dolphin species found on sale in Japan which EIA urges the Government of Japan to phase out
commonly exhibit high pollution levels. all toothed whale, dolphin and porpoise hunts,
Polluted whale, dolphin and porpoise products are starting with the dolphin hunts in southern Japan
still widely available in many parts of Japan; some which produce the most toxic food products, and
products tested have been so polluted that they giving due compensation for the livelihoods of the
could cause acute mercury poisoning from a single whale hunters involved.
meal. There is no legal provision to prohibit the The Government should also prohibit by
sale of toxic whale meat, and inaccurate labelling law the sale of all products that contain, or are
of cetacean products is still common. suspected to contain, toothed whale, dolphin or
In 2006 and 2007, EIA researchers collected porpoise species.
67 cetacean products sold for human consumption Until the phase out is complete, the Government
and contracted independent scientists to carry of Japan should:
exclusion zone, white area to be kept clear DO NOT PRINT BOX
out DNA and chemical analyses, with the
MAX SIZE = N/A following results: • Require retailers to post prominent warning
MIN SIZE = 30mm
labels on all toothed whale, dolphin and
• 52% of the products exceeded Japanese porpoise products, advising of potentially high
COVER PHOTOGRAPHY: government regulatory limits for either mercury, mercury levels;
Main Image: methylmercury or PCBs;
©David Sims/EIA • Update the current seafood advisory to
Strip (top to bottom): • A packet of Dall’s porpoise blubber revealed recommend that pregnant women, women who
© Mari Park/EIA © Claire Bass/EIA PCB levels of 4.02ppm, more than eight times may wish to become pregnant and children do
© Clare Perry/EIA/WSPA © iStockphoto higher than Japan’s regulatory limit of 0.5ppm; not eat any toothed whale, dolphin or porpoise
Design by Revolting • The highest concentration of mercury was found products, with a full list of the species caught
aiY in a whale product that was not labelled with in Japan as well as the generic term for toothed
the species name. It contained 6.9ppm mercury whales;
Printed on recycled paper (more than 17 times higher than the regulatory • Implement emergency regional food safety
limit) and 3.77ppm methylmercury (more than advice to all people in areas where high whale,
12 times higher than the regulatory limit); dolphin and porpoise consumption exists.
• More than 26% of the products were not
labelled correctly with a species/common name;
• Of 33 products for which DNA analysis Environmental Investigation Agency
successfully identified species (or at least
‘dolphin’), 63% were baleen whales as
June 2008
opposed to toothed whales. Despite this,
average mercury and methylmercury levels
over the 33 products were still in excess of
regulatory limits.
products on sale
in Japan
Whale and dolphin meat on sale in Japan originates from several
different commercial hunts. The largest hunt is the government
sponsored ‘scientific research’ hunt, which annually kills up
to 985 whales in the Antarctic (minke and fin whales), and
380 whales in the North Pacific (minke, sperm, Bryde’s and sei
whales), including in coastal areas. The species taken are all
protected by the 1986 International Whaling Commission (IWC)
ban on commercial whaling. The hunts produce more than
5,000 tonnes of meat and blubber each year if quotas are met.1
In addition, four coastal whaling communities (Abashiri,
Ayukawa, Wadaura and Taiji) hunt up to 112 toothed cetaceans
each year in commercial hunts known as ‘small-type coastal
whaling’, which target toothed whales that were not included
in the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling. In the last 20
years, over 1,000 Baird’s beaked whales and almost 1,500 pilot
whales have been killed in small-type coastal whaling hunts,
producing in the region of 4,000 tonnes of meat.2 The coastal
whaling companies also take part in the coastal element of
Japan’s large scale North Pacific ‘research’ hunt.
Japan’s Fisheries Agency also sets annual commercial quotas
for 20,826 dolphins, porpoises and small whales, which are
killed in hand harpoon and drive hunts.3 The largest of these
hunts is the Dall’s porpoise hunt which takes place throughout
the year from the north-east coast of Tohoku and from the coast
of Hokkaido. These hunts supply in the region of 1,500 tonnes
of cetacean products for human consumption each year.4

Pollution in the marine environment
Many chemical pollutants are resistant to biological and
physical degradation, and accumulate along food chains
resulting in toxic concentrations. Top predators in aquatic food
chains, including whales and dolphins, are especially at risk.5
Persistent organic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls
(PCBs) and pesticides are readily absorbed in fatty tissues (e.g.
the blubber of a whale). Used in electrical equipment and the
manufacture of many materials since the 1930’s, PCBs have
become widely distributed in the marine environment,6 and can
reach concentrations of up to 70,000 times higher in marine
mammals than the background environmental levels.7
Mercury (Hg) is a highly toxic and persistent heavy metal which
exists naturally and is also released due to man-made activities
such as the combustion of fossil fuels.8 Methylmercury is an
organic form of mercury which is even more toxic, and readily
bioaccumulates in marine animals, particularly in the muscle
© Pierre Gleizes/ EIA, Insert: © iStockphoto

tissues and internal organs of top predators.9
Due to high levels of industrial and agricultural activity in
Japan, the adjacent coastal areas and local marine food chains
are heavily contaminated with pollutants. Whales and dolphins
living around Japan are therefore exposed to contaminants in
their diet, and often carry high levels in muscle, blubber and
internal organs, particularly toothed whales which tend to feed
at higher trophic levels.10

Mercury Contamination

© Clare Perry/EIA/WSPA
the Health Implications for
Human Consumers
Organochlorines and
human health
Organochlorines such as PCBs have
been linked to immuno-suppression,
endocrine disruption, reproductive
failure and developmental problems,
as well as cancer in humans. PCBs

build up and are stored in fatty tissues
and fluids, such as breast milk, and
are passed on to foetuses and infants
during pregnancy and lactation. PCBs
have been linked to increased rates
of a number of cancers, including
malignant melanoma, non-Hodgkin’s
lymphoma and brain, liver, and lung
cancer. PCB poisonings in humans
Pilot whales carry heavy mercury and PCB burdens. have caused fetal and infant death,
birth defects, and brain damage in
children exposed in the womb. PCBs
The major exposure route of mercury Up to 95 per cent of methylmercury
are also associated with skin lesions
to humans is via consumption of consumed in marine food sources is
and thyroid disruption as well as
fish, shellfish and fish-eating marine absorbed by our bodies and, in pregnant
damage to the nervous, immune, and
mammals. Methylmercury is a well-known women, it readily crosses the placenta
cardiovascular systems.11
neurotoxicant that can have serious causing significant adverse neurotoxic
adverse effects on the development and effects in the developing foetus.14 A long-
functioning of the human central nervous term study was carried out involving more
system, especially when exposure occurs than a thousand mothers and their children levels currently considered to be safe, the
prenatally.12 Methylmercury poisoning from the Faroe Islands, where there exists researchers found subtle effects on brain
can cause serious disease in humans a diet high in fish and marine mammals. function, especially in the area of motor
including degeneration of endocrine The study assessed mercury exposure function, language and memory.15
system, kidneys and other organs. Long through analyses of cord blood samples at According to the lead author of the study,
term or heavy exposure can result in birth and hair samples taken at ages 7 and Philippe Grandjean, of the Harvard School
brain damage and in severe cases death, 14. It clearly demonstrated that high levels of Public Health: “The current focus on
and has been well documented due to the of mercury passed from mother to child protecting pregnant women against this
pollution of Minamata bay in Japan in the in utero produce irreversible damage to neurotoxin should be expanded to cover
1950s. An increasing body of data also specific brain functions in children. children and adolescents as well. Seafood
suggests that current levels of exposure The Faroes study also found impacts on is an important part of a healthy diet, and
to methylmercury may elevate the risk of brain function from postnatal mercury consumers should choose species low in the
cardiovascular disease and mortality in a exposure, with different targets in the brain food chain caught in waters without mercury
significant proportion of the population.13 affected. Even at methylmercury exposure pollution.”16

Recommended ‘safe’ levels
of methylmercury
Following the outbreak of Minamata FAO/WHO U.S.30 Japan31 E.C.32
disease, Japan’s Ministry of Welfare (now (JECFA)29
Ministry of Health, Labour & Welfare,
Tolerable Human 1.6 0.7 2.0 1.6
MHLW), issued the 1973 KanNyu No. 99 Weekly Intake µg/kg (pregnant or potentially
advisory to provide a safety guideline for bw (ppb) pregnant women)
mercury levels in seafood. 3.3
(rest of population)
The advisory sets provisional limits
for seafood products of 0.4ppm (parts Guideline level in fish 0.5 / 1.0 1.0 0.3 0.5 / 1.0
per million)17 mercury and 0.3ppm products (fish other than (excludes predatory (fish other than
mg/kg (ppm) predatory fish / large fishes and fishes & predatory fish / large
methylmercury. The advisory recommends predatory fish) shellfishes from rivers predatory fish)
the removal of seafood exceeding the of inland water and
deep-sea fishes and
provisional limit from the market, in order shellfishes)
to ensure that consumption of seafood will
not result in injury to the human body.18 Figure 1 Summary of food safety advisory levels for methylmercury.
The provisional limits are documented in
the current Standards and Specifications
to the 2003 Food Sanitation Law, which
recommended a revised tolerable weekly
intake of 2.0µg/kg bw/wk on the basis of Mercury Rising
states that “these provisional regulatory the susceptibility of foetuses.23 The PTWI 2005 MHLW updates food safety
values of mercury shall not apply to tuna of 3.3µg/kg bw/wk remains a standard for advice to pregnant women – many
fishes (tuna, swordfish and bonito), fishes the rest of the population.24 dolphin species still not included
and shellfishes from rivers of inland water The United States Environmental 2005 Japan’s MHLW carries out
area and deep-sea fishes and shellfishes.”19 Protection Agency (EPA) has established methylmercury risk assessment and
Although news reports suggest that a more precautionary level (termed revises PTWI for pregnant women to
whale, dolphin and porpoise products are ‘Reference Dose’) of 0.7 µg/kg bw/wk. 2.0µg/kg bw/week
subject to the regulatory limits, a 2004 The difference in the various evaluations 2003 WHO/FAO revises PTWI of
MHLW document notes that, like tuna, results from their dependence on methylmercury to 1.6µg/kg bw/week
whales are not included.20 different studies as primary sources of based on new evidence of risk to
epidemiological data, the chosen exposure unborn children
The levels set by the Government of
Japan are based on a provisional tolerable biomarkers and the uncertainty factors 2003 MHLW carries out an
weekly intake (PTWI) of 3.3 micrograms of used in the calculations.25 investigation into mercury levels
in whale products. As a result, it
methylmercury per kilogram of body weight Guideline levels for seafood products advises pregnant women to limit
per week (3.3µg Me-Hg/kg bw/wk), which of 1.0ppm in predatory fish and 0.5ppm consumption of some whale and
was agreed in 1972 by the Joint FAO/WHO in other fish have been established by fish products
Expert Committee on Food Additives and the World Health Organisation (WHO,
1999 A group of Japanese, English
Contaminants (JECFA).21 In 2003, JECFA Codex guideline level)26 and the European and American scientists release
re-evaluated the risk of methylmercury, and Commission.27 The US Food and Drug data on high levels of mercury in
reduced the recommended PTWI to 1.6µg/ Administration (FDA) sets an ‘action whale and dolphin products
kg bw/wk, based on the most sensitive level’ of 1.0ppm, indicating that legal
1978 National Institute for
target of methylmercury exposure, the action to remove products exceeding this Minamata Disease established
developing foetus.22 level from the market can be taken by the in Japan
The new information prompted FDA.28
1973 Ministry of Health & Welfare
Japan’s Food Safety Commission (a Some current guidelines for maximum (MHLW) introduces guideline
risk assessment body that makes acceptable methylmercury levels in fish levels (provisional regulatory
recommendations to the MHLW and other and intake levels are summarised in limits) for mercury and
ministries) to carry out a methylmercury Figure 1. methylmercury in seafood of 0.4
risk assessment. As a result, in 2005 it and 0.3ppm
1972 World Health Organisation
(WHO) and Food & Agricultural
Published pollution levels found Organisation (FAO) establish
Provisional Tolerable
in cetacean products in Japan Weekly Intake (PTWI) for
methylmercury of 3.3µg/kg
An extensive survey of toothed whale and conclude that “the consumption of red meat 1968 Government of Japan
dolphin meat products sampled from 2000 from small cetaceans [whales, dolphins and announce that Minamata
to 2003 was published in 2005 by a group porpoises] could pose a health problem for not Disease was caused by the
of Japanese scientists. All 160 products only pregnant women but also for the general consumption of fish and
tested (originating from nine different population.”33 shellfish contaminated by
species) exceeded Japan’s provisional In an earlier study, PCB concentrations
methylmercury discharged
regulatory levels for mercury and from a chemical plant
were measured in whale products (bacon,
methylmercury in seafood. One bottlenose blubber, red meat, liver, intestine and 1956 Minamata disease,
© Mark Evans/iStockphoto

dolphin meat product had mercury levels tongue) purchased across Japan. The a disorder of the central
of 98.9ppm, almost 250 times higher than average concentration of PCBs was nervous system) discovered
the regulatory limit and higher than the 1.14ppm in the 61 products, with a range 1932 Chisso Corporation
levels commonly found in the fish that from zero to 8.94ppm. Japan’s maximum began to pump mercury
caused Minamata disease. The levels of limit for PCBs in seafood is 0.5ppm.34 compounds into Minamata
contaminants prompted the scientists to Bay, Japan.
Estimated levels of mercury in Japanese people
Intake of mercury via food can be (3.31), where higher fish consumption intake in the Japanese population found mercury ranging from 48.3µg and
estimated by measuring quantities and a preference for tuna exists. that Japanese people typically consume 77µg per week between 1979 and
found in human hair. A study of hair According to the study, the JECFA around 126µg of methylmercury per 1994.37 Despite the knowledge for
mercury levels in Japanese people PTWI of 1.6µg/kg bw corresponds to a week. For a 50kg person this equates decades that cetaceans accumulate
from 1999 to 2002 involving 8,665 hair mercury level of 2.2µg/g. This was to a PTWI of 2.52µg/kg bw, which is in high quantities of mercury, there are
individuals across nine prefectures exceeded in 25% of Japanese females of excess of the US and JECFA guidelines no studies estimating or measuring
in Japan found average hair mercury child-bearing age, while 74% of females as well as the Japanese guideline for methylmercury levels in Japanese
levels in males of 2.42µg/g and in of child-bearing age exceeded the US pregnant women.36 Lower intake levels people that consume large quantities of
females, 1.37µg/g. The highest levels recommended safe limit.35 were reported in a long term diet study, whale and dolphin meat.
were seen in Chiba (4.75) and Miyagi A different study estimating mercury which estimated stable intakes of

Public health advice issued by
the Government of Japan
The MHLW released food safety advice to consumers regarding Risso’s dolphin and false killer whales) which are sold for human
the consumption of whale and dolphin products for the first time consumption in Japan. 41
in 2003. Rather than implement a thorough investigation to The advice has been criticised by the Japanese Consumer
determine accurate consumption levels, the analysis assumed Cooperative (JCCU), the largest consumer union in Japan for
an even spread of whale meat consumption throughout Japan, viewing the effect of mercury too lightly, and for being difficult to
concluding that there was little risk to the Japanese population.38 understand and impractical. JCCU also point out that there is no
Specific recommendations were given only for pregnant women, advice for infants, which are also highly susceptible to the impacts
advising that they should limit consumption of bottlenose dolphin of mercury exposure. The JCCU recommend further calculation of
to no more than a single portion of 60-80g in a two month period ‘intake guidelines’ to suit different groups of people.42
and Baird’s beaked whale, short-finned pilot whale and sperm By comparing published pollution levels in the cetacean species
whale to no more than a single portion of 60-80 g in a week.39 The outlined in the advisory, it is clear that the advice is wholly
advice did not consider many other species of toothed whales and inadequate to protect pregnant women. According to EIA
dolphins available on the market (e.g. the most widely caught calculations, a pregnant woman would exceed the PTWI set
species in Japan, the Dall’s porpoise). by Japan (and the more precautionary JECFA and US advisory
In 2005, in response to the reduction of the JECFA consumption levels) by following the advice in three out of the four categories.
guidelines for methylmercury, a further risk assessment was Consumption of Dall’s porpoise and short-finned pilot whale at
undertaken and the public health advice was updated.40 The advice the guideline levels would result in methylmercury intake 1.6
now splits cetaceans and some fish species into four categories, and 2.6 times higher than Japan’s PTWI. Only consumption of
and recommends a total allowable consumption for each category 10g bottlenose dolphin (one-eighth of a meal) would result in a
(see below). It is presumed, although it is not clear, that pregnant weekly methylmercury intake that is lower than Japan’s PTWI
women should eat from only one out of the four categories – e.g. of 2µg/kg bw (providing no other mercury containing seafood
10g of bottlenose dolphin per week or 40g short-finned pilot whale was consumed). It would still exceed the more precautionary US
per week etc. advisory level (see Figure 2).
A comparison of the methylmercury levels in the various coastal
1. Bottlenose dolphin 1 meal per 2 months
(10g/week) whale and dolphin species found on the market with the advisory
levels shows clearly that the consumption of even limited
2. Short-finned pilot whale 1 meal per 2 weeks (40g/week) quantities of toothed whale, dolphin and porpoise meat pose a
3. Baird’s beaked whale, 1 meal per week in total significant health risk. Figure 3 shows the methylmercury intake
sperm whale, bluefin tuna, (80g/week) from just one 80g meal for each of the species legally killed in
bigeye tuna, swordfish Japan’s coastal waters. The horizontal lines show the weekly
4. Dall’s porpoise, southern Two meals per week in total methylmercury intake recommended by Japan, the US and the
bluefin tuna, marlin, (160g/week). World Health Organisation (JECFA). One meal of any of the
other fish species cetacean species exceeds the US advisory level and is equal to
or higher than the global JECFA standard. Japan’s less
precautionary standards (for all consumers, not just pregnant
The new advice includes Dall’s porpoises, however it does not women) are exceeded with a single meal of six out of nine of the
include other polluted cetacean species (namely striped dolphin, coastal species.

Category Species Max consumption according to Av methylmercury (MeHg) Estimated MeHg consumption in 1
2005 advisory (g) level (µg/g) found in meat43 week (µg) per kg for a
50kg person
1 Bottlenose dolphin 10 6.83 1.37
2 Short-finned pilot whale 40 6.45 5.16
3 Baird’s beaked whale 80 1.25 2.00
4 Dall’s porpoise 160 1.02 3.26

Figure 2 Estimated weekly intake of methylmercury for a pregnant woman following the 2005 health advisory.
© Mia Strickland / EIA
80g of Baird’s beaked whale meat exceeds an entire week’s safe intake level according to the World Health Organisation.

Labelling Issues and

Baird’s beaked whale
Short-finned whale

Short-finned whale

Bottlense dolphin

False killer whale
(southern form)
(northern form)

Striped dolphin
Risso’s dolphin
Spotted dolphi
Dall’s porpoise

Legislation 900
Labelling of whale and dolphin meat in Japan is subject to several
laws, including the Food Sanitation Law and the JAS Law (Law 80 Estimate methylmercury consumption in 1 week
Concerning Standardisation and Proper Labelling of Agricultural (ug) from 80g meal
and Forestry Products).44 These laws are under the jurisdiction U.S. PTWI for 50kg person
of MHLW and Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries 700 JECFA PTWI for 50kg person
(MAFF) respectively, and allow the respective bodies to issue Japan PTWI for a 50kg pregnant woman
orders to offenders, publicly announce offences and charge penalty Japan PTWI for a 50kg person (rest of population)
fees. The Food Sanitation law gives additional powers to shut
down operations, dispose of food stuffs and imprison offenders for
less than six months, however in practice penalties are usually 500
very lenient or absent for smaller companies.45
The mislabelling of whale and dolphin products has been 400
recognised for some time. Since April 2001, retailers have been
required to label processed seafood (including cetaceans) with
the common species name and place of origin.46 According to the 300
Fisheries Agency, the system includes penalties that would apply
methylmercury level (µg)

to the mislabelling of dolphin meat.47 The MHLW investigation 200
in 2003 identified that only 16 to 25% of whale products were
correctly labelled,48 however there are no known cases of penalties
being applied with respect to cetaceans. 100
In recognition of the problem of mislabelled seafood products,
Japan’s Fisheries Agency produced a guideline on naming seafood 0

Figure 3 Current advisory levels compared to methylmercury intake from 80g (1 meal)
of dolphin, porpoise or toothed whale meat

in July 2007 in order to aid retailers in the labelling and correct
information distribution according to the JAS Law. The guideline
details the common name for each whale, dolphin and porpoise
species caught legally in Japan.49
EIA’s investigations indicate that while there has been some
© Clare Perry/EIA/WSPA

improvement in labelling of cetacean products, mislabelling
or inadequate labelling is still common. In addition, whale
products containing significant levels of pollutants are
sometimes advertised as ‘special’, or ‘healthy’ products, which
likely contravenes the Act against Unjustifiable Premiums and
Misleading Representations, which aims to prevent improper
advertising and labelling.50
Bottlenose dolphins exhibit some of the highest mercury levels found in Japanese
cetacean products

Analysis of EIA cetacean product

© David Doubilet
surveys in 2006 and 2007
exceeded limits for all three chemicals
Sixty-seven cetacean products were
purchased from markets, supermarkets (see Figure 5).
Species labelling and the
and online retailers in Japan for analysis. The highest concentration of PCBs was in pollution risk
Levels of organochlorines, mercury sample EIA06/10; Dall’s porpoise blubber Around 1,400-1,700 tonnes of toothed
and methylmercury were ascertained which had a concentration of 4.02ppm whale, dolphin and porpoise products
and species identification through DNA PCBs, more than eight times higher than enter the market each year in Japan.52 As
analysis attempted for each product.51 the regulatory limit of 0.5ppm. a proportion of the total market, these
The results are detailed in Figure 4.
The highest concentration of mercury ‘small cetacean’ products have commonly
Twenty-five of the products were was found in a whale product labelled made up around one-third of the total
purchased in 2006, in the prefectures as ‘toothed whale’ (EIA07-35); DNA whale meat market (e.g. 34% in 2002).
of Tokyo and Miyagi. Forty-two products analysis identified it as a dolphin, In recent years, the proportion of small
were purchased in 2007, mostly in although individual species identification cetaceans has decreased (to around 22%
Kyushu (Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Saga) was not possible. This product contained in 2005/06) with the expansion of the
and Shimonoseki, but also from 6.90ppm mercury (more than 17 times Antarctic large whale hunt which now
internet retailers. higher than the regulatory limit) and includes fin whales and an increased
Of the 67 products, 35 products 3.77ppm methylmercury (more than 12 quota of minke whales.53
(52.1%) exceeded Japan’s seafood times higher than regulatory limit). Of the 33 EIA samples for which DNA
regulatory guidelines for either mercury, The average concentration of mercury analysis successfully identified species
methylmercury or PCBs (0.4ppm, 0.3ppm in all 67 products was 0.79ppm, (or at least ‘dolphin’ versus large whale),
and 0.5ppm respectively). Thirty- almost double the regulatory limit of 63% (21) were baleen whale products.
one products exceeded mercury and 0.4ppm. The average concentration of Despite the fact that baleen whales tend
methylmercury limits, seven exceeded methylmercury in the 67 products was to show significantly lower pollutant
acceptable PCB limits and three products 0.51ppm, 1.7 times higher than the levels than toothed whales and dolphins,
(EIA06-45, EIA07-16 and EIA07-37) regulatory limit of 0.3ppm. average mercury and methylmercury
© Clare Perry / EIA / WSPA

© Clare Perry / EIA / WSPA
© Claire Bass / EIA

Advertised as ‘toothed whale’, this dolphin meat contained The blubber in this pack of Dall’s porpoise contained more than This product was labelled as minke and sei whale – DNA analysis
mercury levels more than 17 times higher than government 4ppm PCBs, more than 8 times higher than the regulatory limit. revealed that it was actually Baird’s beaked whale, with PCB
regulatory limits. levels more than 5 times higher than regulatory limits.

Sample no. Product Species displayed Origin Species PCBs ppb Total Hg ppm Methyl Hg
according to (ng/ wet g) (ug/wet g) ppm
DNA analysis (ug/wet g)
1 EIA-06/1 Canned whale stew minke, BBW, pilot whale - 5.97 1.29 0.94
2 EIA-06/2 Meat minke, BBW, pilot whale - 102 1.38 0.82
3 EIA-06/4 Red meat Dall's porpoise - 40.7 1.11 0.75
4 EIA-06/7 Canned whale stew none advertised Antarctic 0.18 0.07 0.05
5 EIA-06/9 Fresh whale meat none advertised - common Bryde's 3.25 0.09 0.08
6 EIA-06/10a Whale meat Dall's porpoise Iwate 60.5 0.84 0.56
7 EIA-06/10b Whale blubber Dall's porpoise - 4024 0.11 0.064
8 EIA-06/11 Canned yakinuki none advertised North West Pacific N Pacific minke 12.9 0.14 0.11
9 EIA-06/14 Canned whale stew Bryde's whale - 9.61 0.07 0.05
10 EIA-06/15 Canned whale stew minke, BBW, pilot whale - 39.2 3.20 2.52
11 EIA-06/18 Canned whale stew minke, BBW, pilot whale - 18.3 1.72 1.25
12 EIA-06/19 Fresh bacon minke, BBW, pilot whale - Antarctic minke 181 0.04 0.02
13 EIA-06/21 Canned whale stew Antarctic minke Antarctic Ocean 0.2 0 ND
14 EIA-06/23 Canned whale steak none advertised coastally caught 99 1.22 1.00
15 EIA-06/25 Canned whale chopped none advertised coastally caught 70.3 1.81 1.30
16 EIA-06/29 Whale meat sashimi Minke Antarctic & N Pacific Antarctic minke 1.8 0.05 0.03
17 EIA-06/30 Fresh whale meat minke - Antarctic minke 0.48 0.07 0.03
18 EIA-06/31 Canned whale stew BBW - 36.6 1.84 1.32
19 EIA-06/33 Whale bacon BBW and minke Antarctic & N Pacific Antarctic minke 115 0.93 0.65
20 EIA-06/34 Canned whale stew minke Antarctic Ocean 2.68 0.14 0.10
21 EIA-06/36 Canned whale stew BBW - 30.5 1.53 1.14
22 EIA-06/41 Frozen whale meat BBW - Baird's beaked 142 0.70 0.57
23 EIA-06/43 Canned whale curry none advertised - 72.8 0.72 0.58
24 EIA-06/45 Frozen bacon BBW Chiba Baird's beaked 1888 1.49 1.15
25 EIA-06/46 Whale bone none advertised - Antarctic minke 0.05 0.06 0.03
26 EIA07-01 Grilled whale meat can (yakijiku) Sei whale North West Pacific 1 0.10 ND
27 EIA07-02 Canned minke whale stew minke whale, Antarctic Antarctic 0 0.07 ND
28 EIA07-03 Whale jerky (tare) Baird's beaked whale Baird's beaked 4 0.82 0.60
29 EIA07-04 Aged' minke whale minke whale Antarctic / NWP NW Pacific Antarctic minke 2 0.04 ND
30 EIA07-05 Whale bacon Minke whale Antarctic or NWP NWP or Antarctic Antarctic minke 6 0.02 ND
31 EIA07-06 Whale heart minke whale Miyagi N.Pacific Minke 33 0.10 ND
32 EIA07-07 Whale jerky (tare) Baird's beaked whale Chiba Baird's beaked 166 1.13 0.63
33 EIA07-08 Whale jerky (tare) Baird's beaked whale Chiba Baird's beaked 51 1.02 0.73
34 EIA07-09 Fried whale Baird's beaked whale Chiba Baird's beaked 10 2.39 1.42
35 EIA07-10 Fine sliced boiled whale (sarashi kujira) Antarctic minke Antarctic Antarctic minke 0 0.14 ND
36 EIA07-11 Boiled whale meat (can) BBW on internet, not on can - 31 0.83 0.58
37 EIA07-12 Boiled whale meat (can) BBW on internet, not on can - 94 1.55 1.12
38 EIA07-13 Grilled meat (yakiniku) can baleen whale, sei whale NW Pacific 5 0.08 ND
39 EIA07-14 Boiled meat (yamatoni) can sei whale - 1 0.08 ND
40 EIA07-15 Tongue of minke whale minke whale NP or Antarctic N.Pacific Minke 45 0.06 ND
41 EIA07-16 Whale Risso's dolphin Wakayama STD dolphin 1512 0.98 0.58
42 EIA07-17 Miso flavoured whale skin minke whale NW Pacific or Antarctic Antarctic minke 100 0.06 ND
43 EIA07-18 Dried whale Baird's beaked whale Ayukawa Baird's beaked 5 3.40 2.05
44 EIA07-19 Boiled whale stew can minke whale, Antarctic Iwate 294 0.08 ND
45 EIA07-20 Whale bacon for sashimi. Antarctic minke Antarctic N.Pacific Minke 331 0.04 ND
46 EIA07-21 Salted whale skin sei whale, BBW North West Pacific Antarctic minke 0 0.03 ND
47 EIA07-22 Fine sliced boiled whale (sarashi kujira) minke whale, sei whale - Baird's beaked 2625 0.08 ND
48 EIA07-23 Salted whale BBW Honshu Baird's beaked 45 2.24 1.52
49 EIA07-24 Grilled whale (can) Antarctic minke Antarctic 1 0.07 ND
50 EIA07-25 Red whale meat for sashimi (FROZEN) Antarctic minke Antarctic Antarctic minke 0 0.06 ND
51 EIA07-26 Salted whale Dall's porpoise Sanriku or Ohotuku 5 1.03 0.66
52 EIA07-27 Salted whale skin Dall's porpoise Sanriku or Ohotuku 1114 0.27 ND
53 EIA07-28 Ancient salted whale Small cetacean Nagasaki 7 1.02 0.72
54 EIA07-29 Yukake whale none advertised - Antarctic minke 34 0.09 ND
55 EIA07-30 Whale skin none advertised - Antarctic minke 19 0.07 ND
56 EIA07-31 Sliced skin Small cetacean, Dall's porpoise Sanriku 595 0.13 ND
57 EIA07-32 Block whale for sashimi none advertised Antarctic Antarctic minke 4 0.05 ND
58 EIA07-33 Oba kujira - boiled whale sei whale, N pacific NW Pacific Sei whale 3 0.02 ND
59 EIA07-34 Boiled whale bacon minke whale Antarctic 100 0.06 ND
60 EIA07-35 Whale kakuru (stewed) toothed whale - dolphin 134 6.90 3.77
61 EIA07-36 Sarashi whale minke, sperm, Bryde's, pilot whale Antarctic 9 0.18 ND
62 EIA07-37 Whale bacon for sashimi. toothed whale - Risso's dolphin 1243 1.09 0.58
63 EIA07-38 Whale meat menchikatsu (burger) whale meat, beef Fukuoka Antarctic minke 4 0.04 ND
64 EIA07-39 Salted whale none advertised Miyagi or Iwate 20 1.32 0.88
65 EIA07-42 Salted whale small cetacean Sanriku 4 1.40 1.02
66 EIA07-43 Salted red meat Dall's porpoise Sanriku 81 0.96 0.58
67 EIA07-44 Canned whale stew BBW and pilot whale Shimonoseki 55 2.15 1.53
AVERAGE 232 0.79 0.51

Figure 4 Pollutant levels in 67 cetacean products purchased in Japan by EIA. Highlighted in RED are those above Japanese government limits of 0.4ppm mercury (Hg),
0.3ppm methylmercury (MeHg) and 500ppb (parts per billion) PCBs. STD dolphin means a dolphin from the Stenella, Tursiops or Delphinus genus - in this case likely striped, spotted or
bottlenose dolphin. ND = not determined because of low concentration of total mercury
levels over the 33 products were predominantly toothed whale. Chemical
PCBs Mercury still higher (0.74ppm and 0.44ppm analysis of 13 individual cans tested
Methylmercry respectively) than Japan’s regulatory over the period 2003-06 found average
PCB regulatory limit
limits. mercury levels to be 2.1ppm, more than
Mercury regulatory limit
five times higher than regulatory levels,
Of the 67 products, more than 26% and average methylmercury levels of
Methylmercry regulatory limit (18) were not labelled correctly with a
1.6 1.3ppm, more than four times higher than
cetacean common name. The majority of regulatory levels.54 Kinoya’s whale stew
these were not labelled with any name cans are labelled with minke whale as
1.4 at all, rather than incorrectly labelled. the first component.55 According to the
Four products were incorrectly labelled JAS Law, raw materials are supposed
1.2 according to the DNA analysis. Of these, to be labelled in order of weight with
one product (EIA07-22) was labelled largest component first, however retailers
1 as minke and sei whale but in fact was are not required to detail the estimated
Baird’s beaked whale; it contained PCB quantities of the various components.
levels more than five times higher than This may provide a route to market
the regulatory limits. predominantly toothed whale and
0.6 Many whale products on sale are mixed dolphin products as minke or other
products of more than one species, such baleen whales.
as the canned whale stew containing Of 42 products which claimed to contain
minke whale, Baird’s beaked whale and baleen whales (sometimes in mixes with
pilot whale produced by Kinoya Company other toothed whale species) or were just
0.2 in Miyagi. Although DNA analysis to labelled as ‘whale’, almost one-quarter
confirm species in these cans has not of the products exceeded government
0 been successful, the pollution levels in regulations for mercury or PCBs.
Baird’s beaked Dolphin Risso’s dolphin the cans suggest that the content is likely
whale bacon internal organs bacon

Figure 5 Chemical levels in the three products from the
EIA survey that exceeded mercury, methylmercury and PCB
government guidelines in Japan.

© Clare Perry / EIA / WSPA

© Clare Perry / EIA / WSPA
© Claire Bass / EIA

(Left to Right): 1. Baird’s beaked whale bacon 2. Dolphin colon sold on the internet 3. Risso’s dolphin, advertised as whale bacon
All these products exceeded regulatory limits for both mercury and PCBs

The Japanese Consumer Co-operative (JCCU) is the largest consumer union in Japan. It
has 23.5 million members nationwide with a total turnover of around 374 billion yen and
tens of thousands of employees. Retailing through Co-op stores and promoting Co-op
brands is the mainstay of the JCCU business.56
The JCCU advises against the consumption of dolphins and has criticised the inadequacy
of the Government of Japan’s food advisory concerning mercury.57 Despite this, EIA
has discovered that Co-op stores in Miyagi sell Kinoya branded cans of whale meat
stew, which have been found to contain high levels of mercury. A canned whale product
© Clare Perry / EIA / WSPA
purchased from the Co-op in 2006 (EIA06-15) contained 2.52ppm methylmercury. At
this level of contamination, a standard sized can of 125g would contain approximately
315µg of methylmercury, nearly four times the amount that JECFA recommends can be
© Claire Bass / EIA

safely consumed in a week. In 2007, EIA investigators also found Dall’s porpoise blubber
on sale in a Co-op store in Saga with high levels of PCBs.
According to the JCCU website, “‘Safety’ is the biggest premise of co-op products. We will
positively keep working for the study of products’ traceability and information provision,
for the safety and trust in food.” EIA recommends the Co-op institutes an immediate ban
on all products known or suspected to contain toothed whale, dolphin or porpoise meat Polluted Dall’s porpoise blubber and canned whale meat sold in Co-op
or blubber. stores in Japan.

Conclusions &

© Claire Bass / EIA
Whale and blubber products from toothed EIA recommends that the Government
cetaceans (toothed whales, dolphins and of Japan phases out all coastal
porpoises) routinely exceed Japan’s regulatory whale, dolphin and porpoise hunts,
limits for mercury, methylmercury and PCBs. starting with the dolphin hunts in
Despite this, they are widely sold in Japan, southern Japan which produce the
often without adequate labelling to ensure that most toxic food products, with due
consumers are aware that they are purchasing
such products.
compensation for the livelihoods of the
whale hunters involved.
According to the investigation into mercury
and PCBs in whales by the Ministry of Health, The Government should also prohibit by
Labour and Welfare in 2003, it was not deemed law the sale of all products that contain,
appropriate to regulate polluted whale and or are suspected to contain, toothed
dolphin products too strongly, or appear too whale, dolphin or porpoise species.
critical, for fear of damaging the industry beyond
repair. The report also states that treating whale Until the phase out is complete, the
meat in the same way as standard foods is Government of Japan should:
inappropriate, since whale is a specialist food.
• Immediately implement an amendment to the
What the report fails to note is that, while many labelling law that obligates retailers to post
people in Japan never eat cetacean products, prominent warning labels on all toothed whale,
some people may regularly eat large quantities of dolphin and porpoise products, advising of
cetacean products. These areas of high whale and potentially high mercury levels;
dolphin consumption are mostly in coastal areas,
where people likely consume high quantities of • Immediately update the 2005 seafood advisory
fish and shellfish which may also exhibit high to recommend that pregnant women, women
mercury levels, e.g. tuna. Therefore there is likely who may become pregnant and children do not
a proportion of the Japanese population that is at eat any toothed whale, dolphin and porpoise
considerable risk from pollution in toothed whale products, with an informative list of species
and dolphin products. that includes all coastal whale, dolphin and
porpoise species as well as the generic term for
For more than thirty years, legislation has existed toothed whales;
in Japan that recommends the removal of seafood
products with mercury and methylmercury levels • Further revise the seafood advisory to
in excess of 0.4ppm and 0.3ppm respectively. inform consumers that labelling of whale
Toothed whale, dolphin and porpoise products products is often inadequate and that dolphin
caught in coastal waters routinely have levels products are sometimes mislabelled as minke or
far in excess of these limits. Therefore the entire other large whales;
coastal hunting industry, which is supported by • Implement emergency regional consumer
the Government of Japan, exists solely to provide advice, based on total diet studies in areas
food which is recognised as unfit for human where consumption of seafood, including
consumption by that same government. whales and dolphins, is highest.
1. Catch statistics reported by the 14. FAO/WHO, 2003 Summary and Regarding Foods’ (Opinion exchange G.M. 2002. Human health significance 45. According to food related law compliance
International Whaling Commission (IWC). conclusions of the sixty-first meeting of meeting for revision of advisory on of organochlorine and mercury consultant Tatsuo Saeki, blog entry 15 JARPAII and JARPNII the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on consumption of seafoods containing contaminants in Japanese whale meat. June 2007.
catch quotas reported in Gov of Japan Food Additives (JECFA), Rome, 10-19 June mercury): Question 6 confirms that whale Journ. Tox. Env. Health, 65(17):1211-1235.
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